Cameron joins Mubarak?

Posted on August 15, 2011  /  3 Comments

It seems that all governments under threat fear communication media. Instead of the kill switch, Cameron of the UK seems to be proposing a narrower ban: social media use by miscreants. How does this work? Does the government know who is planning mayhem and who is not? Does it shut down base stations in affected areas, or does it target specific people? What is to prevent them from simply calling their friends about the next electronics store to hit?

More controversially, Mr. Cameron said the government was working on measures that would stop rioters from using social media — Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger, principally — to coordinate and direct their “horrific actions.” Borrowing a leaf from authoritarian governments that Britain has been quick to criticize in the past for similar measures — China, Egypt and Libya, among others — he said his government had concluded that “it would be right to stop people communicating via these Web sites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

Free-speech groups said restrictions on the use of social media or smartphones would be difficult to enforce and could violate basic freedoms.

“It seems like a bizarre and kind of knee-jerk reaction by the government,” said Padraig Reidy, news editor of Index on Censorship, a magazine that covers free-speech issues. “We’ve seen this kind of thing time and time again, especially with young people, when it comes to technology. Now it’s social networks and smartphones. A few years ago it was video games. Before that it was horror films.”

More from NYT.


  1. A top British Parliamentary body headed by Indian-origin MP Kieth Vaz has summoned the bosses of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry.

    “Today I have written to the Chairmen of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry because it is absolutely clear that the new media had a role in the number of people who turned up at various places,” Vaz, Chairman of the influential Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, said here.

  2. David Dickson, Editor of SciDev.Net and one of the seniormost science journalists in the UK, has written a powerful editorial titled
    ‘Social media: Don’t shoot the messaging service’. In it, he acknowledges that the recent riots in the United Kingdom have shown the dark side of social media, but we must avoid heavy restrictions on their use.

    An excerpt:

    “Instant, unrestricted access to information is therefore a mixed blessing. Like almost any new technology, social media can be used or misused. The political challenge is to design controls that discriminate effectively between the two.

    “There is no case for draconian action. Indeed, even controls that may appear relatively benign in one context can take on a broader significance when they are quoted as a precedent in another.”

    Full editorial: